In a division dominated by the two powerhouses named the Ravens and Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals have really carved out a niche for themselves. The team is used to playing second fiddle to the former two, but have managed to usurp their rivals and claim their second divisional title in just three seasons. On their way to grabbing the title, they went 4-1 against AFC North opponents, with only a Week 17 match against Baltimore left on the docket.
This time around, the Bengals were able to ride to the playoffs on an equally talented offense and defense. The balanced attack of the Bengals allowed them to defeat teams that previous iterations of the franchise would've struggled against. On offense, the group of young talent finally matured and played on the same page. Andy Dalton has finally looked like the quarterback the Bengals drafted him to be, and the now-healthy Tyler Eifert was able to show the league just what the was capable of. The excellent receiving corps of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu continued all season long to reel in Dalton passes. On the ground, the odd couple of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill kept defenses modest. And finally, an offensive line led by stud tackle Andrew Whitworth laid the groundwork for all of this to happen. The combination of all these factors led to one of the league's more surprising formidable offensive attacks.
Defensively, players young and old contributed to make the Bengals a great defensive team. The defense enjoyed success with playmakers in all facets of the game. In pass rushing situations, Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict led the charge. The defense also held its own in the air, with CB Adam Jones and FS Reggie Nelson leading the Bengals' admittedly decent air defense.
The real challenge for the Bengals wasn't getting to the playoffs, it's going to be going anywhere during them. The Bengals have taken their last six playoff berths and have lost in the Wild Card round each and every time. For them to shake off that narrative, it's going to be an uphill battle. The Bengals could potentially go into battle without their quarterback, and will undoubtedly face a tough opponent from the Wild Card pool, or even in the Divisional round if they clinch a bye game.
The Ravens stand in the Bengals way of clinching a first round bye, and will look to wreak havoc on another rival's playoff hopes this week when the Ravens travel to Ohio. You know its always a good battle when these two teams meet.